Iraq’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 12, 2018, will be a factor for Erbil and Baghdad to reach a solution, breaking the political impasse they are currently locked in, predicts Iraqi President Dr. Fuad Masum.
Masum, a Kurd and member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), recently sat down for an interview with Rudaw’s Ranj Sangawi in Baghdad.
He is optimistic that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will agree to talks under pressure from Masum’s office, because he has a lot to lose if he continues to resist. Aid donors, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), don’t want to see their assistance being misused in internal disputes.
The talks, however, should start by addressing practical matters, rather than political platitudes, beginning with crucial matters like the payment of civil servant salaries and then moving forward, Masum advised.
Masum also predicts that Kurds, now fractured, will come out of the May 12 elections stronger and more unified.
Rudaw: What was the result of the meeting held by Iraq’s three presidential bodies of the republic, government, and parliament?
Dr. Fuad Masum:
The main subject of the meeting was whether elections should be held and what law should be used as a basis for these elections as there are some proposals in this regard. Peoples’ living conditions in the Kurdistan Region were also discussed.
Is it true that leaders of most political parties are concerned about relations between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad?
All the parties were against the referendum, but are now calling for dialogue between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq following the ruling passed by the Iraqi federal court. There might be people against this dialogue, but I haven’t seen any faction leader opposed to holding talks.
What would be your future stance if the Iraqi government, in the face of all these initiatives for dialogue, continues to be in denial?
Two weeks ago, I visited all the political parties. They all urged holding talks. The prime minister is surely also talking about holding these talks, but I haven’t seen him take steps toward these talks. He says his government has military relations and talks. But it’s
Some political parties think violence helps them win lots of votes... But the political price for this will be big
important to hold these talks on salaries, peoples’ living conditions, and the halting of flights.
There were many parties who argued that no country should meddle in Iraqi affairs. That is why I had to take an initiative. I penned a letter to his Excellency Haider al-Abadi, in which I wrote that we in the presidency of the republic call for dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad in the presence of a United Nations representative so that he can assist us in technical matters. But we haven’t received replies from any party.
Do you think Abadi can reject this initiative if responses from the KRG and UN are positive? What do you think Abadi’s response will be?
It is unlikely for him to reject it. He might think about something else that could lead to these talks. But he cannot take a stance against holding meetings or reaching agreements.
What makes him unable to take a stance against these talks?
Those, such as the International Monetary Fund, that help Iraq do not want parties to use the aid they receive against other parties. The position of those who deliver this aid should be respected – Iraq will lose a lot if they change their position.
So will this aid to Iraq be conditional on Baghdad supporting the Kurdistan Region?
It should be conditional because the Kurdistan Region is part of Iraq too and being together is in the interests of both.
There are people who think Haider al-Abadi is using his stance against the Kurdistan Region as an election campaign tool. Do you think punishing the Kurdish nation will lead to victory in elections?
This is a very big mistake. Some political parties think violence helps them win lots of votes. Their votes in some places might increase by three to four seats. But the political price for this will be big. It will undermine the weight of the party. That is why he cannot say he is against holding talks.
International flights to and from the Kurdistan Region have been halted. Authorities are still able to fly just like before, though. It is the ordinary people, the sick and business people who are affected by this flight ban. Doesn’t Abadi think about these people?
He certainly should. This has been discussed many times. This has caused many problems for travelers. He can appoint supervisors
We want the talks to start with practical steps rather than exchanging political or nice words with each other
there [at the airports]. The thinking that there are some accused people who travel from Kurdistan as they wish should end.
The Kurdistan Region showed its readiness to welcome supervisors. Erbil has responded to all the demands made by Baghdad. Germany publicly announced that its support to Iraq would be contingent on Baghdad negotiating with Erbil. You also have made an initiative for dialogue between the two. What do you think will be the reaction of the world toward Abadi if he doesn’t respond to these local and foreign initiatives?
We will be following up on our initiative. We are not asking for Haider al-Abadi and Nechirvan Barzani to sit together because they will not reach an agreement initially. In the beginning, a professional delegation of them should come here to discuss the question of airports with the ministry of transportation and border ports with the customs office. We want the talks to start with practical steps rather than exchanging political or nice words with each other. The situation should then normalize after Kurdistan’s delegation returns.
You, as a statesman and president of the republic, have taken initiatives within the framework of the constitution more than once. What will be your stance if your initiative is rejected again?
Nowadays, we have very good relations with His Excellency Abadi and send text messages to each other. We are in touch with each other.
Do you only send text messages, or make phone calls to each other too?
No, it is only through phone text messages. But sometimes appointments are set for telephone conversations.
Why didn’t Abadi take part in the meeting held by the country’s three presidential bodies?
He came up with an excuse and said that he had other things to do. But he told us about his position on elections and had said they had military relations with the Kurdistan Region, but other types of relations with the Kurdistan Region were suspended.
Why is Abadi interested in military negotiations, but not in political ones?
He certainly achieved a big victory in the war against ISIS, and this might be one of the reasons behind this.
Were you not upset with him when he didn’t include the Peshmerga in his first statement on victory over ISIS?
Kurds will not become weak after the elections
I released a statement immediately. He was also widely criticized during his visit to Europe.
When do you think Haider al-Abadi and Nechirvan Barzani will meet?
This meeting should take place after professional delegations come over here because I believe high-level meetings often end without reaching results.
Do you think, given the nature of Iraq, negotiations will succeed without the participation of leaders?
Each of these leaders takes into account the opinion of their people. I myself think that we should first build a foundation from which talks should start, and then move these talks up. For example, in the case of the question of salaries, lists of teachers and health employees should be sent and the number of the rest of employees can be verified through the biometric system. But negotiations on this should be held in order to reach mutual understanding.
Abadi used to promise every Tuesday that he would send teachers’ salaries, but recently said they couldn’t pay these salaries after peoples’ hunger intensified. Does this show good intentions? What do you make of this?
There are many interpretations of this, but I don’t want to do interpretations. I think it is important for these talks to be held soon. Unrest in Kurdistan, if it erupts, will be in favor of no party in Baghdad. This unrest might reach Baghdad too. This issue cannot be solved by procrastination. He should meet with the Kurdistan Region.
Haider al-Abadi is said to be using these problems with the Kurdistan Region as an election campaign card. Will these negotiations be held before or after the elections are held?
The Kurds will not become weak after the elections. I think they will be more united after elections are held. They will have at least
We shouldn’t use [international] sympathy... for the Kurds to take steps toward statehood
65 seats, and this will be taken into consideration. I think relations among Kurdish parties will be better after elections. They will reach an agreement among themselves through one party making concessions or other means.
Will your efforts to bring Erbil and Baghdad together bear fruit before or after elections?
They should bear fruit before elections are held. These elections can be a factor for them to reach a solution earlier.
Abadi’s excuse is that there are ghost employees on the Kurdistan Region’s payroll. If that is the case, why doesn’t he send salaries of real employees?
Cutting the salaries of all the employees on this basis is not justified.
What stance will you be taking if Abadi continues his arrogance, disregarding the initiatives made by you and the international community?
We will then call for a meeting of parties. For your information, none of the participants in the meeting held by the three presidencies of the country had any tough stance on the Kurdistan Region.
What do you make of Ayad Allawi’s statement in which he warns that there is a big danger to the Kurdistan Region?
He seems to mean something by saying this, but I don’t know what he means.
Is there any danger or international collusion against the Kurdistan Region?
No, I don’t believe there is such a thing. The policy of the international community was against the referendum, but is not against the Kurds or the Kurdistan Region. On the contrary, they are speaking up now. But we have to be careful not to commit another mistake. We shouldn’t use the sympathy they have for the Kurds to take steps toward statehood.
Is this the same for Abadi who continues his arrogance in the face of international calls for negotiations with Erbil?
Abadi will not benefit from doing this. This surely is to his disadvantage.
Do you think he is pursuing the same stance as the one pursued by the Kurds before?
We are not yet convinced about this. He celebrated victory. Let’s give him another chance. We will continue with him because a
I defend everyone – the Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis and Christians
solution to the problems can be reached through pressure, not violence. Failure to resolve these problems poses a danger to not only the Kurdistan Region, but also Iraq. This is what I tell them when I speak to them.
What do you think these dangers are for Iraq in the event these talks fail to happen or collapse?
Terrorists can resurface when they see there is no coordination and negotiation among parties.
Are you protecting the constitutional rights of the Kurds alone, or all Iraqis who feel left out?
I have been appointed by the Kurds to this position. But my treatment of all should be the same. I defend everyone – the Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis and Christians. I have interfered wherever there has been a shortage. We inform them whenever we see a constitutional violation and point to them what is wrong.
How many counts of constitutional violations have been committed against the Kurdistan Region?
They both have violated the constitution.
Who has committed more constitutional violations?
It was the party who was strong at the time. The situation of the Kurdistan Region was different before. Now it is my duty to defend it with all my strength. I went to Sulaimani three days before the referendum. Mr. Masoud [Barzani] was there too. I urged him not to go beyond the Region otherwise Iraq and neighboring countries will intervene. He said at the time that they hadn’t made up their mind.
All parties are responsible for the result of the referendum
I also called on them in the meeting held in Dukan to say they were committed to the constitution and could resolve problems within the framework of the constitution. This was necessary.
I had a meeting with leaders of all the parties the next day. But the Iraqi parties said they were not prepared to come to the meeting because, they said, there were five points in the statement released after the meeting in Dukan and none show that the Kurds are committed to the constitution.
When a project succeeds, everyone credits himself. But they disavow themselves of the project when it fails. Would you attribute the failure of the referendum to Masoud Barzani himself?
I would surely not attribute it to him. He was the author of the idea. But all the parties are responsible for it.
Do you think Masoud Barzani is being treated unfairly?
The parties thought that Mr. Masoud would not take steps unless he knows the whereabouts of his next steps. Most of them supported him, especially the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). All parties are responsible for the result of the referendum.
Imports from the Kurdistan Region to Iraqi cities have been subjected to heavy taxes. As president of the republic, what have you done to eliminate these illegal acts and constitutional violations?
There should be one customs fee on goods in the country. Goods should not be taxed twice within the country. This is one of the things that the Ministry of Finance should regulate. People paying customs fees in Kurdistan shouldn’t pay again until Basra.
Is there such a thing in the country?
Nothing can succeed between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq by way of imposition
Yes, there is. But these are contrary to the law.
Abadi said protests should be allowed to take place in the Kurdistan Region and they are prepared to protect security in coordination with security forces? He said it is their duty to protect civilians. Is giving salaries to people not your duty too, some Iraqi parties responded? Do you think sending federal forces to Kurdistan will have good intentions?
Under these circumstances, sending forces from here to Kurdistan will cause many problems.
Nothing can succeed between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq by way of imposition.
There are claims Abadi is seeking a loophole to dissolve the entity of the Kurdistan Region. Can this be done?
No, such a thing cannot be done.
A republican regiment was due to be deployed to Tuz Khurmatu to help normalize the situation there, so that the more than 50,000 Kurds in exile can return. Why was the regiment not sent?
Yes, a republican regiment was due to go to Khurmatu. But there were many complaints by some parties, saying the Kurds were going to be supported if the force was sent. There was a lot of pressure. His Excellency Haider al-Abadi pulled out from the subject because sending the regiment should have had the approval of both parties.
Why would they succeed in applying pressure, but not the president of the republic when he puts pressure on something?
There was fear that these forces would be provoked, causing a big problem between the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.
Who is currently protecting the Kurds there? Where is the truth commission?
The people of Khurmatu deserve all types of assistance. I met with Hadi Amiri [of the Badr Organization] to discuss the question of Khurmatu. Good steps have been taken. And some army forces will go there to protect the security situation in coordination with the town’s police forces.